Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Holidays on Holidays

We sidestepped the Tuk-Tuk cartel as we rolled off the bus at Shianoukville, and found ourselves with a cheap ride (although we had to keep our voice down so that the cartel didn’t know our driver had lowered the locally set high fare) to the hotel we had picked from the Lonely Planet, Coaster’s. We booked into a Bungalow which is basically a wooden hut up on sticks about 3m off the ground, with a couple of fans, mozzie nets, a bathroom and a balcony with an absolutely beautiful view of the ocean and the surrounding islands.

We have decided to take a break from travelling and just chill out for a few days by the beach. Which is pretty much all we have done, moving from beachside restaurants with sand under our toes to beachside bars with sand under our toes. We hired a scooter on our second day and braved the local police and their arbitrary tourist laws like riding with lights on during day and charging fines for not having a Cambodian licence, basically fund raising and fines are barter-able. We rode down to another quieter local beach for a relaxed lunch, then back to another beach later for a swim while we watched a beautiful sunset over the ocean. Then we headed down the another beach restaurant with sand under our toes and ate a delicious serve of Barbequed King prawns.

Let’s just sidestep for a second here: Now I know that I may look stereotypically the part with my long hair, beard and my occasional wearing of a Pink Floyd T-Shirt, but at least two or three times a day since we have been in Cambodia, someone on the street will subtly offer me Marijuana. Sometimes it is not so subtle with them pulling out a bag just to show me that their stuff is legit. We had both read stories about police offering tourists drugs just to then arrest them and give them a large fine or threaten with jail. But just like the street peddler they will say, “you change your mind you come see me”. It is also common for pizza restaurants to have a partitioned menu with normal pizza and “happy” pizza, which we assume has pot sprinkled on it as an ’erb.

So while relaxing on the beach eating our king prawns we noticed a lot of people sitting around smoking joints, one old Khmer guy was walking along the beach smoking a big joint while talking into his radio, no not a walkie talkie, just a radio… As you do. It is obviously a part of the local culture, and we even noticed a lady going through the tables selling pre-rolled joints while helping to maintain the barbeque. Although there is quite an alternative tourist culture is Shianoukville, with lots of fire-twirlers on the beach and Doof Doof that starts at about 12am and goes all night. Our first morning we woke at 6am and watched the sunrise before going back to bed, only to be woken 20mins later by some Argentineans next door, who were getting home to re-supply their coke-heads.

Our third day we took a boat out to the local islands where we snorkelled around the coral and relaxed on more beaches while being fed a beautiful barbeque of local fresh ocean fish. It was another wonderfully relaxing day in paradise although we both got sunburnt really badly. We look like Pommy Backpackers at the moment as we are so very pink, and so very sore. My troubles are made worse as my left ear is blocked after getting a water logged ear and then making it worse with a cotton bud. I may have fucked my ear drum or something, shit happens. We also realised how spoilt we were at the Great Barrier Reef, the fish and coral here were really nice, but they were no way as grand and colourful as what we saw at the Great Barrier Reef.

Today is our last day here (maybe). We’d like to stay longer as it is so lovely just chilling out on the beach, but it is probably time to get moving again and tomorrow will start a new chapter as we take a bus back to Phnom Pehn and then onto to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam by tomorrow night. We hired a scooter this morning but haven’t used it yet because we have both been so busy doing absolutely nothing at all. Maybe we will go for a cruise then retire for the afternoon in one of those beach side bars with the sand under our toes…

Sorry about posting three posts in one day but we've been quite busy doing absolutely nothing.

Photos for the last week can be found right HERE.

Prue vs. The Hostesses

With a lot of encouragement I managed to drag Prue into the bar across the street from our hotel, the same bar I had entered the night before. Instantly we were set upon by a pack of young Khmer girls who greeted us and ushered us to a table where they sat with us staring at us with polite smiles. Prue shifted uneasily in her seat as we ordered a beer for myself and a margarita for Prue. The girls tried making conversation with us and Prue tried to find out the score asking them if they were paid to talk to us, but we struggled to translate the questions, so after much deliberation between the Hostesses they replied with “Do you want a Tuk-Tuk?”. Prue’s margarita was neon blue in colour and like myself the night before she swiftly sipped her drink and we bailed from the bar to find a less awkward place to enjoy a drink and get some dinner.

After two nights in Phnom Pehn we’d seen enough, it’s not that the place wasn’t interesting, just that it wasn’t very nice. We boarded a coach the next morning and headed south towards Shianoukville. We paid and extra $2 ($7 total) for the Airconditioned bus with a toilet and free drinking water, we didn’t see any drinking water but we were treated to some first class Cambodian Karaoke on the TV screen, the first half hour of the trip we pissed ourselves at the cheesiness of the Khmer music videos and especially the song called “New Zealand” we had no idea what the song was about but it was fun singing the only English words of the song “New Zealand” as they popped up on the screen.

After Karaoke we were treated to a Cambodian comedy show, we had no idea what was going on but the laughter from the Khmer people on our bus and the indecipherable madness happening on the screen made it quite entertaining. The laughter was stopped as we drove past a collision on the way out town, where a scooter rider had a very bloody forehead, a wound that probably would have been avoided had he been wearing a a helmet. We stopped at a rest point about halfway through the trip and found disappointment that there were no kids with Tarantulas hounding us to buy fruit, but we did find some of the yummy fried bananas we had in Battambang.

The second half of our trip on the bus became somewhat of a surreal experience… As soon as the bus had fired up the engine and roared off down the highway (road from Phnom Phen to Shianoukville is a very good road surprisingly) on came the TV and we found our self watching a 90’s Jackie Chan film dubbed into Khmer with English subtitles. The opening scene displayed the word “Melbourne” and we both had an “oh shit, no way” moment as we realised the film we were watching was not only filmed entirely in Melbourne. But when they filmed the movie Jackie Chan had stayed at Darling Towers our former work/home. We ended up watching the whole movie, shouting out locations as we recognised them and had a truly strange experience thinking about the coincidence of it all while we rolled into the beachside town of Shianoukville…

Tragedy and Majesty

Tragedy and MajestyWe headed off late in the morning after a sleep in to have breakfast in Phnom Penh. After dodging the flocks of Tuk-Tuk drivers we found a nice little place to eat around the corner from the hotel. With a good breakfast in our bellies we headed back into the scrum to pick a driver. We ended up choosing a driver that spoke English in a great Aussie accent and it took us ages to figure out he was in fact from Phnom Penh. He’d been taken under the wing of some Aussie ex-pat and he spoke a bit like a local from central Australia or maybe north of Perth. He had Australia and Perth written on his Tuk-Tuk as well as the inside part of the roof being covered in stickers of people with him and of him with his family and many other interesting things.

We headed out to the Killing Fields to see the sad history of the people of Cambodia. I don’t really know what to say about the Killing Fields except that I believe it’s is a place that everyone who visits Cambodia needs to visit. It is hard to write about the experience, it’s not like Battambang where there was so much to say about that day that we could gloss over it. We knew that we’d have to take our time and pay our respects and on entering the site we both got chills. When you first walk in you see the large Stupa that was built to hold the bones of the dead that had been unearthed. Only about a third of the site has been excavated so far and they know that they have only taken out a small portion of the dead. We took our time at the site, reading all the information and looking through the small museum on the site. Drew and I were profoundly affected by what we saw and read. This is a testament to the character of the wonderful Khmer people who have overcome huge adversity to become the wonderful, welcoming and happy people we are meeting everywhere in Cambodia. These sites are both a stark reminder and a memorial and we are grateful we chose to do it.

We headed to the Royal Palace in our Tuk-Tuk (The only one like it in Phom Pehn) and said goodbye to our charismatic driver. The Royal Palace is another awe inspiring place and the wonderful buildings that we were allowed to see were amazing. I hate to draw comparisons, but I don’t think it was on the same scale as the pimped out Thai Palace. It is however, amazing in more subtle ways. The artworks inside on the walls are from many hundreds of years ago and the fact that any of it survived the Khmer Rouge is amazing in itself. So many places we’ve visited have been breathtaking despite people apologising that it was more amazing before it was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. We love it anyway. The Royal Palace did have something that the Thai King didn’t have. The Royal Palace has a huge building that has a floor completely made of Silver Tiles. Most of the tiles were covered in carpet so you could walk through the Pagoda to see the wonderful museum quality objects that the King has made available to be viewed, but you can still see the silver tiles. Even though you’re not meant to step past the rope and onto silver floor Drew and I did possibly inch forward a little too much just to stand barefoot on the floor.

We headed back to the hotel and dropped some stuff off at our room and then headed out to see the night markets. We may have got to the markets a little early but we wandered around with all the locals looking at the food and clothes and many other items available for sale. It was slightly underwhelming when compared to some of the markets that we’d seen already so we headed off down some dark back streets checking out the local parts of the city…